Micromanagers (Part 1/3): The Root Cause

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I suspect that most of you have personally experienced or know someone who works for a micromanager. You have likely told or lent a sympathetic ear to a seemingly endless stream of anecdotes fed by the smothering effects of micromanagement.

Micromanagers suck the life out of those who work for them; yet, it is an intriguing phenomenon that most micromanagers do not recognize this trait in themselves and even when confronted about this behavior pattern will reject the characterization and remain blind to the havoc and discontent they spread. This behavior is so strong that the typical micromanager rebuts this charge with a vigorous justification for their behavior. Micromanagers see their behavior as a logical reaction to the world around them and, consequently, harbor deep convictions about the necessity of their methods. What others view as a negative, micromanagers often view as a strength of their management style. Therefore, it is little wonder that breaking out of an oppressive micromanagement cycle remains elusive for most people caught in its grip. The negative energies which perpetuate this cycle often continue until the employee leaves in frustration or the manager gets fired for ineffectiveness.

In certain circumstances, improving our personal or professional effectiveness involves increasing or decreasing certain behaviors. The visible nature of these existing behaviors, whether positive or negative, make them easier to recognize and adjust. However, some of our more difficult personal and professional challenges arise when the missing element lies outside the circle of existing behavior patterns. In these circumstances, the challenge of awareness (the first step in any change) rises exponentially.

In the case of micromanagement, a focus on eradicating the oppressive behaviors will fail, because these behaviors are the result and not the cause. The most common cause behind micromanagement and missing elements in that relationship is a lack of trust and respect by the micromanager toward those they support. Although the problem of micromanagement usually starts with the manager, a healthy solution can start with either the manager or employee. The next post will discuss how to (re)build trust and respect and provide some suggestions for dealing with a boss who is blind to their micromanaging behavior. The third and final post in this series will address how a boss may eliminate micromanaging behavior.